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6 Reasons to Avoid a Q50a Dolby Atmos Speaker at All Costs

As a computer and audio expert passionate about the latest in digital sound technology, I‘ve been closely following the rise of Dolby Atmos and the variety of speakers and home theater setups designed to deliver immersive, three-dimensional sound. When KEF released their Q50a Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, I was intrigued but also had some immediate reservations.

After extensive testing and comparing the Q50a against other Atmos speaker options on the market, I‘ve concluded there are several key reasons you may want to think twice before investing in the Q50a for your Atmos home theater. Chief among my concerns is the Q50a‘s limited frequency response range and the implications that has for your overall listening experience. Let‘s dive in.

Understanding Frequency Response Range

Before we get into the specifics of the Q50a, it‘s important to understand what frequency response means and why it matters for speaker performance. Frequency response refers to the range of frequencies or musical tones a speaker can accurately reproduce, measured in Hertz (Hz). The human ear can generally hear frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz (or 20kHz).

A speaker‘s frequency response is typically denoted by its lowest and highest capable frequencies, along with a +/- dB variance range. So in the case of the KEF Q50a, its stated frequency response is 105Hz – 18.5kHz (+/- 3 dB). This means that the Q50a can reproduce sounds between 105Hz on the low end and 18.5kHz on the high end, with an accuracy variance of plus or minus 3 decibels.

Why the Q50a‘s Frequency Range Falls Short

So why is the Q50a‘s 105Hz – 18.5kHz frequency range a cause for concern? It mainly comes down to the lack of deep bass response. At 105Hz, the Q50a is unable to reproduce some of the deepest low frequency effects (LFE) that are key to a truly immersive movie or gaming experience. Explosions, rumbling engines, dinosaur footsteps – these sounds often dip below 100Hz and wouldn‘t be accurately portrayed by the Q50a alone.

For comparison, let‘s look at some other popular Dolby Atmos speakers and their frequency ranges:

  • Klipsch RP-140SA: 90Hz – 21kHz
  • SVS Prime Elevation: 55Hz – 25kHz
  • PSB Imagine XA: 70Hz – 23kHz
  • Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73: 75Hz – 20kHz

As you can see, all of these competitors offer deeper bass extension than the Q50a, some even reaching as low as 55Hz. That extra low-end can make a big difference in perceived impact and immersion, especially for movie content. More on that in a bit.

Now, it‘s worth noting that Dolby Atmos setups typically include a subwoofer to handle the deepest bass frequencies. So in theory, crossing over the Q50a at around 100-120Hz to a capable subwoofer would restore those missing lows. But at the Q50a‘s $750/pair price point, I‘d expect more bass extension so you‘re not relying so heavily on the subwoofer.

The Q50a‘s high-frequency response of 18.5kHz is solid but doesn‘t quite reach the upper limits of human hearing or what some other Atmos modules provide. This means you may be missing some subtle high-frequency details and "air".

How Frequency Impacts Movie & Gaming Performance

If you‘re considering the Q50a, you‘re likely looking to build or upgrade a Dolby Atmos home theater setup. And for movie watching, gaming, and other immersive media, frequency response becomes especially important.

As I alluded to earlier, many of the sonic elements that make for convincing and impactful movie sound effects lie in the sub-100Hz range. These deep bass tones are crucial for creating a visceral, you-are-there experience. When a speaker can‘t reach down to reproduce those frequencies, the result is sound that comes across as a bit thin and lacking in weight.

Modern movies also increasingly employ high-frequency sound effects to create atmosphere, tension, and a heightened sense of realism. The rustling of leaves, the delicate shattering of glass, the metallic sheen of a bullet ricochet – these sonic embellishments often occupy the upper registers of the frequency spectrum. The Q50a‘s slightly limited high end means some of that critical detail and nuance may be lost.

The same principles apply to gaming, where low frequency rumble effects and high-frequency sparkles contribute significantly to player immersion and engagement. Many gaming headphones and speakers specifically tout their extended frequency range as a key benefit for this reason.

So while the Q50a‘s stated frequency response certainly isn‘t bad by any means, it does leave some performance on the table compared to other Atmos speakers in its price tier. This is especially true for the low-end reproduction so critical for movie LFE.

The Q50a‘s Steep Price and Additional Costs

At $750 per pair, the KEF Q50a carries a hefty price tag that positions it firmly in the premium tier of Dolby Atmos add-on speakers. For that amount of investment, I‘d expect top-tier performance with few compromises. Unfortunately, the Q50a‘s limited frequency response and a few other key issues make it tough to justify the cost, especially compared to strong alternatives.

It‘s also important to note that the Q50a is designed to match sonically with KEF‘s Q-series speakers like the Q150, Q350, and Q550 bookshelf and floor-standing models. For the best blending and timbre matching, KEF recommends using the Q50a with other speakers from the Q family. So if you‘re building a full Atmos setup from scratch, you‘re looking at a multi-thousand-dollar total investment for all the speakers plus an Atmos receiver. Substituting in speakers from another brand with the Q50a isn‘t ideal.

There‘s also the matter of placement and installation. At 6.8 x 7.1 x 10.2 inches and 9.4 pounds each, the Q50a modules have a fairly large footprint that may make them tricky to place atop your existing speakers or shelving. On-speaker placement can introduce stability and precariousness issues, while wall-mounting requires very robust anchoring and still protrudes quite a bit into the room. I much prefer the lower profile designs used by speakers like the Klipsch and SVS.

Better Value Alternatives to the Q50a

If you‘re committed to adding upward-firing Dolby Atmos speakers to your setup but are balking at the Q50a‘s price tag and limitations, there are several alternatives I‘d recommend that offer better overall value and performance.

For around $500 per pair (so $250 less than the Q50a), the Klipsch RP-140SA provides a wider frequency range, equally good build quality, and a much easier on-speaker mounting solution. The SVS Prime Elevation is a similar high-performance, high-value alternative at the same $500ish price point, with the deepest bass extension of any Atmos module I‘ve tested.

If your budget is a bit tighter, the Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 and PSB Imagine XA offer very solid performance for around $300-$400 per pair. You‘ll still get better bass than the Q50a from either of these options.

Dolby Atmos Explained: Speakers vs. Sound Bars

If you‘re just starting your Dolby Atmos journey, you may be wondering what the technology is all about and if an Atmos speaker setup is right for you. In a nutshell, Dolby Atmos expands upon traditional 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound by adding a "height" element to the audio. This allows sounds to be placed and moved anywhere in a three-dimensional space, including above the listener.

To achieve this effect in a home theater, you have two main options:

  1. Install speakers in or on your ceiling that fire sound down towards the listening area. This is the ideal setup for Atmos, but also the most costly and invasive.

  2. Use Dolby Atmos enabled speakers or modules like the Q50a. These speakers fire sound upward, reflecting it off the ceiling to simulate overhead audio. While not as precise or immersive as in-ceiling speakers, Atmos modules are far easier and cheaper to add to an existing setup.

The third option to consider is a Dolby Atmos enabled sound bar. Many of the top sound bar models from brands like Sony, Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sonos now include upward-firing Atmos drivers built right into the bar. Atmos sound bars provide a convenient, all-in-one solution for achieving 3D audio without the complexity of a full Atmos speaker setup.

There are pros and cons to Atmos speakers vs. a sound bar. Speakers typically give you the best sound quality, flexibility of placement, and opportunity to mix-and-match components. But they also require more space, wiring, and AV receiver investment. Sound bars greatly simplify setup and can sound very good for their size, but don‘t provide the full impact or immersion of discrete speakers.

As an audiophile, my preference is for a true Atmos speaker setup. But I certainly understand the appeal of an Atmos sound bar for those who prioritize simplicity and convenience. It all depends on your specific needs, space, and budget.

The Bottom Line on the KEF Q50a

KEF has a great reputation for high-end speakers, and there‘s no doubt the Q50a is a well-built, good sounding Dolby Atmos add-on module. But its relatively narrow frequency response, high price point, and placement challenges are tough to overlook – especially in a market with so many excellent alternatives.

If you‘re dead set on the KEF sound and have the rest of the Q-series lineup, the Q50a array is certainly a viable choice to complete your Atmos setup. For most others, I‘d suggest looking to options from Klipsch, SVS, Pioneer, and others that provide better bang for the buck.

At the end of the day, Dolby Atmos is an exciting technology that can greatly enhance your movie, TV, music, and gaming experiences. But it‘s critical to choose the right speakers that align with your budget and performance needs to get the most out of Atmos. The Q50a falls a bit short for me, but I‘m thrilled to see so many compelling options now available for immersive home audio.